A Strange Submarine Design – The West Worries Chinese Latest Stealth Attack Sub Could Strengthen Sea Blockade On Taiwan

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Aug 17 2022
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Last month, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) formally commissioned a new submarine to be deployed to China’s East Sea Fleet. The sub has raised eyebrows due to its strange design – a distinctive new conning tower or sail. Instead of being streamlined to improve water flow like more designs, the Chinese new sub is angular and faceted.


The unconventional design suggests a new radar or sonar deflection technology to make it stealthier and tougher to be detected. Analysts believed the latest Chinese submarine could be an enhanced version of Type-039 (Yuan class) that first entered service in 1998. With a 60% improvement, the latest variant – Type-039C – could create headaches for Western nations.


While the newest attack submarine is not nuclear-powered, it could be designed specifically to guard – or block – Taiwan in Beijing’s battle plan against the U.S. and its allies. Heavily customized and weaponized for operations around the coast of Taiwan, the diesel-electric or lithium-ion-batteries submarines are most suited in the shallower waters of the East and South China Sea.

China New Stealth Submarine Type-039C

The recent visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw an incredible quick retaliation from China when Beijing announced four days of intensive military exercises around the island. Less than 24 hours after Pelosi left, China encircled the island and fired at least 11 Dong-Feng ballistic missiles into seas north, south and east of Taiwan.


Six zones have been identified by the military exercise to seal off Taiwan and repel foreign intervention. And for the first time, Chinese missiles flew over Taiwan. The exercises obviously had been pre-planned and were carried out to send a message that a sea blockade can be imposed on Taiwan, as well as to show off the Chinese military’s ability to deploy precision weapons.


What is unknown, however, were the types of Chinese submarines deployed under the sea during the military drills. According to a recent Brookings Institution report, the latest stealth sub is the perfect fit for a blockade of Taiwan’s ports. Due to the close proximity between mainland China and Taiwan, the quieter and smaller sub is more suitable than heavyweight nuclear-powered sub.

Pelosi Visit To Taiwan - China Military Drill Map

In the event of a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, China may choose to starve or strangle the self-rule island into submission. The U.S. might or might not send reinforcement. The presence of Type-039C submarines could deter the Americans from going to a war with the Chinese over Taiwan, knowing very well the new subs can operate for extended periods nearby.


On Oct 2, 2021, a 9,300-ton 353-foot-long (107.5 meters) submarine – USS Connecticut – hit an “unknown” underwater object in the South China Sea, leaving 11 sailors injured. It was only in May 2022 that the U.S. Navy released a long-awaited, but heavily redacted report of its investigation. The report claimed that the heavyweight sub hit an uncharted sea mountain.


USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is one of only three Seawolf-class nuclear powered attack submarines operated by the United States Navy. It was designed to combat the threat of advanced Soviet ballistic missile submarines such as the Typhoon-class, and attack submarines such as the deadly Akula-class in a deep-ocean environment.

USS Connecticut Submarine Damage

Not only the submarine is incredibly quiet and well-armed, but also can travel at a speed of 35 knots (40 mph; 65 km/h) maximum – as fast as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. With all the bells and whistles one can imagine, the Seawolf-class is considered the luxury sports car of submarines. At a cost of US$3 billion a pop, it was the most expensive submarine in the U.S. Navy.


So, how could the world’s most advanced and expensive submarine damaged itself before even go to war with China? It’s still unknown what object the US$3 billion sub had struck. One official said it could have been a sunken vessel, while another said it could be a sunken container or other uncharted object. Other speculations say Chinese submarine, or drone could have collided with the USS Connecticut


Regardless of the actual story, one thing is for sure. The Seawolf-class nuclear powered attack sub was spying on China. But after losing one of its crown jewels, the U.S. would not want to lose any more of its remaining two expensive subs. Heavy American subs cannot operate in Taiwan Strait’s shallow water (average depth of 60 metres) as it would be easier to detect them than in deep water.

China Nuclear Submarine

China’s strategy is to “crowd” the surrounding waters of Taiwan with a flotilla of low-cost submarines to hinder U.S. freedom of navigation efforts, or at least creates enough fear to make Washington thinks twice about sending valuable assets to the risky water, hence keeping American vessels at a distance. The damage to the USS Connecticut has been a humiliation to the U.S. Navy.


The West has every reason to believe the Chinese have the capability to flood the waters surrounding Taiwan with the latest stealth submarines to overwhelm U.S. submarine warfare assets. PLAN has already commissioned an operational sub after just over a year the latest design sub was first launched – a spectacular speed for a new class of submarine.


China’s new submarine, built in Wuhan, has also attracted comparisons with Sweden’s A-26 Blekinge-class submarine, which also has a similar angled sail design, leading to the accusation that the Chinese have copied the Swedish design. However, the Swedish first A26 saw its keel laying ceremony only a few weeks ago, while the Chinese sub has already entered service.

China Warship - Combat Exercise


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